The Fairies are Back!

A bit later than usual, but so were the hummingbirds!

Generally, the fairies and hummingbirds arrive at the same time and both were a bit late arriving at the Fairy Slope this year. I’d dawdled with preparations, as the original plan was for a group of young Girl Scouts to come and do the setting up, arranging of furniture, and plantings this spring. I’d even prepared a few fairy-related crafts for them to do while here (making stepping stones and pennants.) Of course, the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” changes cancelled that plan.

So, the “Tete a Tete” daffodils came and went, and the fairy cottages were still under the shelving in the basement. The miniature hostas emerged, the brunnera bloomed and still I dawdled, perhaps thinking that the virus would magically disappear and my helpers would come. Eventually, realization settled in, and one very hot afternoon, working in the somewhat shaded area of the Fairy Slope seemed suddenly appealing. First the area was given a bit of tidying, and some of the pieces of bark that had been washed from the garden onto the nearby patio were retrieved and replaced. Then the first house came out.

Fairy Cottage with red door got my favorite spot this year.

Some new columbines were planted last autumn, which make a dainty little grove surrounding the mushroom table and stools on the right. The stepping stones were made by the last group of fairies that attended our final “Fairy Day” at my herb farm, so they are special to me. This cottage is situated under the lilac, with hellebores in the background. A border of violas were added to the left. There is lots of space left for dancing.

The cottage on the left gets the most sunshine!

The left cottage has a white garden for the most part. A border of sweet alyssum outlines the area for a little bistro table and chairs. The circular bench is currently around a volunteer hellebore seedling, until I get a small “tree” to replace it, (usually a rosemary topiary, but I haven’t even made one this year! Or, maybe the fairies would prefer an umbrella?) and to the right of that is a miniature “White Angel” columbine. This little cottage has a bee skep and a bird house as well as a little forest of ceramic mushrooms. Since it is so sunny, I may add some leftover alpine strawberry plants. Fairies do love strawberries, you know.

The “French” chateau is a bit more elegant, with metal benches in its front courtyard, which has a metal fence and arbor entrance. There’s a little border of orange violas to its left, and miniature hostas spilling down the right. I’d intended to dig and divide several of the mini hostas for the garden club plant sale…maybe next year. And generally, there is a white-flowered Kenilworth Ivy climbing the arbor, or sometimes a purple-flowered asarina. Maybe the fairies will add it.

There’s still two boxes of “fairy” decor that could go in, but with no one visiting I’m taking the “if I drag it all out, I’ll have to drag it all back in come fall” approach, so this year the fairies will have to make do with a more minimal, simplistic neighborhood. Apparently, even their lifestyle is being impacted by Covid-related lethargy.

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May: Monthly Review

The Potager at the end of May

A bit tardy with the monthly review, but time has been spent dragging hoses and finally putting down some mulch. May began with the beauty of the tulips, gorgeous weather and lots of planting. Then on the 9th was the Freak Freeze, followed by a windy, rainy spell with cooler than normal temps. By the time we hit the 20’s (the dates, not the temps!) we suddenly had record heat and that has continued till month’s end. It certainly kept things interesting, with all the covering and uncovering but everything in the potager survived except the earliest planting of peas.

Finally warm enough to plant out the tomatoes and nasturtium edging.
The overwintered kale is a beautiful bouquet! And the pollinators love it…
The star of the May garden, “May Queen” shasta.

32 varieties were added to the potager during the month of May, either as transplants grown from seed, or directly seeded, bringing the total to 60. This year, there won’t be as many varieties as in past years because I’m editing. I’m passed the stage of needing to grow as many things as possible just to be doing. Now the list is limited to the foods we actually will eat, that have proven reliable in the past, and that it makes sense to grow (except for the fava beans, which are actually doing better this year!) There are very few “new” crops in 2020.

The “Robin Hood” favas are loaded with pods that are suddenly finger-length!
The Cutting Garden mid-May, all weeded, edged and mulched, but not very colorful yet.

All the gardens were given another weeding, edge trim, and lots of new plants. All the flats were moved out of the basement, and even the greenhouse is nearly empty. There is still planting of annuals to do once the daffodil foliage is gone, but for the most part the major planting is done. There was actually NO indoor seeding or transplanting done the entire month of May, except for reseeding a couple of melon and cuke plants that expired for reasons unknown.

The harvest began to accelerate in May, with asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries added to the prior month’s gleanings of kale, spinach, radishes, lettuce, bok choy and various herbs. Total poundage was 25.25, compared to an even 20 last year and 24.25 in 2018. And so far, the improvised strawberry protection seems to be working (knock wood!) to deter the raccoons from stealing the harvest.

Beet greens could have upped the total poundage, but we prefer to wait for sizable beets for pickling and roasting.

May overall was a good month, with the usual mixture of cold and hot, the good and bad that comes with gardening in Indiana. It did seem odd to not have the famous Indy 500 race, or graduation parties. But daily, I give thanks that I am blessed with having gardens and nature surrounding me during what could otherwise be bleak days.

Be safe and cautious. Take time to enjoy the beauty around you, and most of all be good to yourself and EVERYONE else. Continually, the lyrics of that oldie “What the World Needs Now, is Love, Sweet Love” flow through my head…true then, true now decades later.

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Six on Saturday: June 6

This year what I call the “gap time” is occurring this week. Sometimes it happens in the later parts of May. It’s that period after all the spring bulbs put on their show, the next big production by perennials is in the works, and the annuals are not yet big enough to hit the high notes. Some people fill the gap with peonies, columbines and bearded irises. I have a few of each, but not enough to make a show. I like each of those, but their flowers are so fleeting that I can’t make myself give them much space. So my “Six on Saturday” for this week are six herbs that help fill the gap visually. In my view they last a bit longer than the aforementioned perennials, but even if they didn’t they have a usefulness that makes them valued members of the cast. 1) shown above, is chamomile which fills much of the potager’s west interior border. The abundant seedlings grow anywhere, filling in around the rhubarb and roses, but are easily edited out of paths and away from any plants that dislike crowding. I should harvest more of the flowers for tea, but the little white daisies are so dainty and pretty that I let many of them decorate the potager.

2) Thyme is in full bloom right now, offering not only beauty but a bounty for all the bees that visit. Seven different types of bees were working these blooms yesterday. This particular variety is my favorite, “Lemon Mist” which I love for teas and for cooking. It’s blooms are a soft lilac, but thymes come in many bloom colors from pure white through pinks, purples, and into (ugh!) red. And in these viral times, everyone should be growing thyme for its anti-viral properties.

3) Valerian is another favorite. So fragrant and willing to grow in unlikely spaces. These popped up at the shadier in the morning, full sun in the afternoon corner of the Lady Cottage. It is a rampant self-seeder, but pulls and moves fairly easy so I let it go within reason. Again, a good plant for pollinators, and I love to sit on the bench and enjoy the sweet scent. It’s the root that is beneficial for sleep (and aren’t many of us having a bit of trouble sleeping these troubled days?) but the root MUST be DRIED before use. An easy perennial growing 4-5′ in height.

4) Alliums. I’ve planted lots of the expensive bulbs for showy alliums and they always rot over the winter, or freeze. So, I settle for these charming white-flowered chives which come on just as the normal purple-flowered chives are finishing, and help fill my gap. Like their normal cousins, they are self-seeders if not deadheaded, and have a mild garlic flavor rather than onion. Very hardy and easy. 8″

5) Foxglove “Polka Dot Pippa” is a reliable perennial rather than a biennial. Rarely self-seeds but returns year after year. The Polka Dot series has three colors, with “Polly” (a rosy deep apricot) and “Petra” (pink speckled with a cream throat) in addition to my “Pippa” ( soft apricot with a soft gold throat) which I thinks looks grand with my brick. Unfortunately, the company from whom I originally got seed 7 or 8 years ago no longer lists “Pippa.” Digitalis is not an herb for beginners to experiment with medicinally, for the difference between a safe dose and a fatal one is often minute and varies from person to person. However, it is too beautiful a plant not to grow in my garden.

6) Nigella or “Love In A Mist” is welcome in my potager interior border as well. It’s seeds have long been used as a seasoning, but I’d grow it even without any usefulness. Pretty flowers (blue in my potager, white in the Cutting Garden, but also available in “mulberry” which is various shades of rose/pink) followed by purple-streaked pods that dry for fall bouquets. An annual that self-seeds easily, it grows happily in sun or light shade.

That’s my “SOS” for this week. If you’d like to see other takes on this theme, hop over to The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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New Roses!

Rose “Jump for Joy”

The first of the roses opened today. This “Jump for Joy” was just planted a few weeks ago, part of the order from the wonderful folks at High Country Roses. They certainly haven’t had it easy. First, slower than usual shipping due to the virus conditions. Upon their arrival, they were unpacked, but had to remain in the house in front of the French doors for several days because we had that freak freeze. After that it rained so much they couldn’t go into the ground. Finally, they were planted and then it stopped raining. And now they are being besieged by bugs. Our winter was so warm that apparently all the flea beetles and other insects all thrived. I hate to use chemicals, so beyond insecticidal soap I’ll just have to live with some holes in leaves.

I certainly love the color of “Jump for Joy” and am hoping it thrives. Another of the same order has also opened. I chose this one not only for the color, but it’s part of the Downton Abbey series. It’s called “Anna’s Promise,” for the character who plays Mary’s maid.

Rose “Anna’s Promise”

The outer petals of the rose seem to have dried out, or possibly they were nipped by frost. Still, I like it and have hopes that the next one opens even prettier. Both these roses are planted in the Deck Garden. “Anna’s Promise” is in a more exposed spot, while “Jump for Joy” is a bit more protected.

A couple of the roses planted last year are beginning to have buds, so hopefully June will be a rosy month. I’ve never been a great rose grower, but I’m determined to do better. Old dogs are said to be able to learn new tricks!

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A Welcome Rain

A pass-along plant I call “Old Gold” Iris

I haven’t written in a while, because the weather has just been too good to stay indoors, and by the time I quit gardening for the day my brain is too tired to compose thoughtful content. I pushed hard, planting mostly but also doing some weeding because I knew the rain was coming and then would be the time to take photographs and write. The day has arrived, and a good soaking rain has brought cloudy skies and relief from a very hot spell. The plants are as thankful for the change in weather as I am, bursting with youthful energy and growing as much overnight as they did in a week of heat. Real rain is magical elixir that cannot be matched by hose watering. The iris are slowly beginning to open. I don’t have a lot of tall bearded iris in my gardens because they just don’t last long enough to justify their space (in my humble opinion, many others think otherwise, and that’s fine. I feel the same about regular peonies, although tree peonies are an entirely different story!) The iris look especially pretty with a sprinkle of raindrops. At least they draw the eye away from the fading tulip foliage. Most years, the annuals have been in the ground for weeks and are already blooming, but not this year. A combination of my late seeding and freezing weather has created a gap. Thankfully, it will fill quickly. So, let’s hurry to the potager and see what changes have been wrought since your last visit. There’s lots of flower there!

The overwintered kale is blooming abundantly…tasty flowers!

Here’s bed 4d, which has the overwintered kale we’ve been eating for weeks. As you can see, it needs to be harvested totally, so the newly planted EarliDew melons are not shaded. See how wet the paths are? Normally, there’d be a new thick layer of mulch, but with “Stay Home” advice, the mulching will wait.

The broad beans are setting pods…finally!

The “Robin Hood” fava beans have been blooming for weeks, but are just now setting pods. I wish they were as big as they look in this photo. Actual size is about 1″ in length! They did not like the week of high 80 and low 90 temps and dropped some blooms, but this cooler, wetter spell should be to their liking.

The shallots are really branching!

You may remember that last year we had record rains that lasted all through April and May. Many of the shallots rotted before they were ready to harvest, and I barely had enough to plant this year. I’m crossing my fingers we don’t have a repeat. I think these are the tallest shallots ever grown in the potager. I’m hoping I didn’t put too much compost on so they are growing lots of leaves, but not much bulb. Only time will tell.

The Green Arrow peas are blooming.

On the other hand, last year the Green Arrow peas grew a foot above their fence, but this year they are a foot below the fence top and already blooming. They were a bit damaged by the freak freeze, so maybe it’s to be expected. At least they survived and are producing, whereas the “Sprite” peas totally froze to mush and had to be removed.

The beans are coming up.

Normally by now, there would be tiny “Royal Burgundy” beans setting on the plants, but this year the beans are just germinating, and rather unevenly. The nights in the 20’s were just not helpful, but it was worth the risk. Since there are still rows and rows of canned beans in the pantry, we aren’t in a rush for them to fill the hunger gap. Next to them are the “Katarina” cabbages, the small heads are perfect size for a small family like us. They mature quickly and take much less space that “normal” heads. However, I’ll have to keep a close watch and they Bt spray handy as soon as the rain stops. Today I found several of these…

The cabbage worms have hatched…

Yes, they are tiny, but they can quickly produce damage. Luckily I spotted this one while weeding. If there is one, there are likely others and I found several that were the size of an eyelash. I may need a magnifying glass next year!

The rain brought LOTS of tiny, tiny weeds.

Making compost the way I do (lazily, no turning and no manure) has its pluses and minuses. The plus is that there’s a 10′ x 4′ bin to use every year with no work except piling the stuff on. The minus is that it doesn’t get hot enough to kill weed seeds, but I’d rather pull tiny weeds as shovel and turn. Most of the “weeds” are actually seeds of plants I grow and throw on the pile after frost, or as they are harvested, so there’s lots of chamomile, marigolds, tomatoes, etc. I also toss the seeding flat contents after I’m done transplanting, so sometimes there are welcome surprises. This week some hollyhocks popped up, so they were moved into the potager’s interior border. Speaking of transplants, there’s still plenty of flats yet to be planted.

Bed 3e has been an overflow area.

Bed 3e will have tomatoes in cages and 4 hills of summer squash soon, but until it’s time to get them in the bed was covered in flats of transplants because the greenhouse and side benches were full. I did plant enough flats to make room to get the edging of nasturtiums planted and two hills of squash. Hopefully the rest of the bed will be cleared soon. Those flats are higher on the priority list than these:

Flats still waiting to go into the ground.

Yes, there are still LOTS of babies to be planted. I haven’t figured up how many have already found their homes, but I’ll do it before the May monthly review. The two flats in front are the latest things transplanted, the French Baby Leeks, which were moved later into the seeding schedule purposely. They just don’t need to be started as early as I’ve done them the past two years. Live and learn! There’s lots of marigolds to be planted but they need to be in bloom so I can sort them by color and group them into plantings. I buy a mix, which is cheaper than buying the three individual colors I want. I do end up with a few red ones, but I give those to my friends, who are happy to take them. There are a few sunflowers left, but most have been planted, and those that remain will be tucked into the Cutting Garden, along with the zinnias sitting on the little round table in the background. And, a few things are waiting for their assigned spaces to become empty.

Lettuce “Tom Thumb”

A couple more meals and this first planting of lettuce (and the kale as well) will be replaced with bush tomatoes. I keep a knife handy, usually tucked in along the bed framework. There are only 3 of the original plants left to harvest. The others (smaller) are actually ones cut weeks ago that have regrown! By the time the tomatoes grow large enough to need the space, the second growth lettuces will have been harvested as well. Succession cropping at its easiest! Meanwhile, there are other lettuces coming on.

Lettuce “Little Gem”

The “Little Gem” lettuces are not quite as quick as “Tom Thumb” but almost. They were tucked into the bed where the frozen peas were removed, just to keep the timing for that space as close as possible. Had the peas thrived, they would have come out to create space for parsnips. The lettuce won’t fix nitrogen as the peas would have, so the fertilization will need to be adjusted a bit before the parsnips go in.

Crossing fingers and toes that it works!

Loyal readers may recall the disaster of raccoons destroying most of the strawberries last year. I got the first small picking, before they came, smashed the plants flat and devoured all the berries including the white unripe ones. This year, the 4-panel pea fencing that doubles for tomato cages for the late tomatoes has been fastened over the strawberry beds. Yesterday, I added bird netting over the top, and fastened it down with lathe strips held by C-clamps.

Just in time, there are berries beginning to turn red!

That’s how I’ve been spending my time. The days are just whizzing by. It’s Friday, and suddenly it’s Friday again! Oh, wait…it’s Thursday…I think I’m starting to get the knack for this isolation thing after all! Be safe, be content in your circumstances at the moment. It may be better than all the changes to come.

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Daffodil Evaluation

Daffodils have graced our lives for 71 days!

Sadly, the final daffodil has wilted, so it’s time to do the numbers. First of all, let me clarify that I’m not a purist, so I use the term “daffodil” to include all the daffodils, narcissus, and jonquils as a group. While I do keep good records, the information is not complete because I do not know the names of every daffodil that grows here. For instance, the first daffodil to bloom is a small bright yellow of medium size (about 10″ tall with a medium sized bloom) that I found growing at our old farm in Owen County. They were planted in a row with a gap in the center. I’d been told that there had been a log cabin there at the top of the hill, and I always imagined that the original pioneer woman had planted them on either side of her doorway, or possibly on either side of the gate along a fence that protected her front “yard.” When I moved away in 1992, I brought a clump along as a remembrance, and each spring as that daffodil blooms I send a prayer of thanks to that pioneer woman. (Why they would build a cabin at the top of the hill, where the strong winds blew, and the hike to bring water from the stream at the bottom of the hill would challenge the hardiest of folk is beyond my wonder!) This year that first cheerful daffodil opened on March 9. The very final daffodil finished yesterday, May 19 so that’s an impressive 71 days of heart-warming blossoms!

I’ve added a few daffodils each year since I retired, to the handful of un-named ones that were already in the ground when we purchased this house, being mindful of trying to stretch the season a bit. There are now over 40 varieties. However, my more recent goal has been to add daffodil varieties that have a longer bloom period and that hold up to our erratic spring weather. To that end, the records of when each variety begins to bloom and when it ends is important. Also, little notes recording destructive storms, hard freezes, or record heat are kept because weather can impact bloom. By comparing the numbers in various conditions over the years, a truer picture of which blooms hold up best is produced.

This evaluation is the result of five years of record-keeping and observation, except for the fact that a few of the varieties have only been grown for two years. I won’t bore you with the performance of every variety, but here are the ones that bloom best for me here in north central Indiana (Zone 5, but often acting more like 4b) Only those blooming for more than 20 days are included in this evaluation. (Sorry, that doesn’t mean each individual flower lasts more than 20 days, but that the variety bloomed for 20 days or more!) They are (in order of their appearance) :


Interestingly, “Cassata” bloomed 3/31 in the Cutting Garden, but 10 days later in the somewhat shaded Front Island, but both groups bloomed more than 20 days. “Mary Gay Lirette” is similar and behaved in the same way in its two locations. Both of these are the wonderful split-cups, which although they have large, showy blooms also have strong enough stems to keep them upright even through our winds, storms, and even snow and freezing rain. These two have become favorites, along with the very large “British Gamble” which also holds up very well to inclement weather.

“British Gamble”, one of the longest-lasting, begins with a darker apricot trumpet that fades as it ages.

“Avalon” was one of the first daffodils I added when we moved, for I loved its softer yellow trumpets with creamy white centers. It begins blooming in early April and usually lasts nearly the entire month. It also is one whose clump expands fairly quickly, so I’ve been able to divide the and add them to other areas.

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“Delnashaugh” is a beautiful double with apricot petals tucked here and there in the cream-colored head. Until this year, it was always the longest-lasting of all the varieties I grow! It also multiplies fairly quickly and lasts a really long time as a cut flower. This year, it bloomed from April 8 until May 17.

“Rip Van Winkle”

The odd little “Rip Van Winkle” is small, but mighty with its spiky pom-pom flower, lasting 24 days. The flowers are only about 2″ across. It isn’t spreading much, but that could be because it is in the Front Island under black walnuts, and sadly, it has had a couple of encounters with the riding lawn mower cutting the corner too close! 😦

“Dolly” is a BIG double yellow that blooms long, but sadly the heads are so heavy they are often bent or fall to the ground, so most of them end up in a vase rather than remaining in the garden. “Sovereign” is another split-cup reputed to be 6″ across, although none of mine have been that large. They are supposed to be white with a dark yellow split trumpet, but some of mine have reverted to all yellow. Still pretty, and very durable, so I’m happy to have them.

“Sovereign” is supposed to be white & yellow!

“Pippit” is a small-flowered one, tall and graceful with multiple flowers per stalk. This one is lovely in the vase or garden, hardy in the worst storms and only lost the “longest bloom period” trophy by one day! “Bella Vista” is fairly new, purchased for its dark orange very frilly cup surrounded by white petals. The picture in the catalog sold me. In person, it’s much smaller than I’d hoped, but it holds up well and lasted 22 days.

“Geranium” is a multi-flowers per stem, old-time fragrant variety that is still a big winner in my book. It blooms later in the season (mid-April here) and often the stems get bent, but they are so lovely in the vase perfuming a room that I will always have them. 23 days this year. “Slice of Life” is another whose portrait in the catalog spurred its purchase, but the yellow flower with a split cup of dark orange are quite small, and if it weren’t so long-lasting (23 days) it wouldn’t be an asset. “Blushing Lady” just made the cut at 20 days, with soft yellow petals surrounding a soft apricot trumpet. As you might surmise from the name, it is a dainty, shorter plant that prefers dappled shade. Said to be fragrant, but I fail to detect any scent.

“Blushing Lady”

And the winner is (Fanfare!) “Sweet Ocean” a cream, yellow and orange double that sometimes has a hint of pink. Sweetly fragrant, strong-stemmed and sometimes has more than one flower per stem. This year, it bloomed from April 22-May 19 for a total of 27 days, even though we had some strong storms and 24 degrees F during that period. This is only its 2nd year, so as the clumps enlarge there is more opportunity to even extend that bloom period!

“Sweet Ocean” the longest-lasting daffodil in my trials!

I hope that my observations make choosing from the vast selection of spring bulbs a little easier for you. I’ve enjoyed reading about others’ favorites and have already started a list for fall planting, even more daffodils! I think I must add “Sir Winston Churchill” and “Fortissimo” and possibly some others, especially if this virus continues to hang around. There’s few things during isolation more cheerful than a vase of colorful daffodils, especially if it’s snowing and there’s no basketball!

The rain has stopped, so I’m off to deal with little weeds that have begun to sprout. They think during the rains I didn’t notice, but there’s hours are numbered in single digits!

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Many decades ago, as a country girl finding herself in a city, with a small toddler, far from home and family I happily took advantage of our church’s free baby-sitting for members of the Quilter’s Group. As a ten-year 4-H’er in sewing, I was well acquainted with needle and thread, but had never done quilting. I felt drawn to it, possibly because my great-grandmother supported her family by quilting (even after she lost one eye) and her daughter also did some quilting. It was a lovely way to spend a morning WITH ADULTS, and feel productive. Our group of about fifteen women hand stitched the quilts, after they’d been pieced together by some ambitious stitcher, and charged a fee which went toward our mission work. I was one of the youngest members, through various ages up to Nell, a tiny 80 yr. old with nimble fingers that flew through the tiniest stitching. It was so relaxing, with interesting conversation, and someone always brought delicious treats.

By now, you are no doubt asking, “So what does this have to do with gardening?” Well, here’s the tale, so settle in. One morning as we worked, I was sitting next to Nell. The discussion was how we could make more money at our annual church Christmas bazaar. Usually The Quilters Group’s booth sold quilted pot holders, some interesting wall hangings, some fancy Victorian-type Christmas ornaments and some Barbie-doll clothes, but we felt we needed something different to up our sales over our usual $5-600 dollars. There were other groups in the church that had booths, so we couldn’t venture into baked goods, knitting, woodwork, painted items, etc. without stepping on some other groups’ “toes.”

Nell seldom spoke at length, so when she softly said “I have an idea, but I’d need lots of help” we all sat up with interest. She continued to explain that her grandmother had taught her to make potpourri when she was a child. Well, that brought all our thoughts to a halt, because not one of us had a clue what “potpourri” was. (Remember, this was 1971, before even Wal-Mart sold flagrantly colored, super-saturated wood chips as “fragrance.”) She said she had a tin of potpourri that was over a 100 years old, that still smelled wonderful and then she proceeded to explain that potpourri was a carefully blended mixture of flower petals and herbs, with essential oils added to enhance the natural fragrance of the plants. Her idea was that we would make the potpourri, and each of us would sew some pretty bags and small pillows to hold it. They could be plain or fancy, embroidered or lace. Possibly some members who like to go to garage sales could find pretty glass jars and small bowls. Nell said old sugar bowls with lids would be especially good finds. When she brought her tin of potpourri the following week, even the doubting Thomas’s were won over!

In order to make the potpourri, we would have to ask the 3,000 members of our church if we could come harvest their rose petals, lavender bushes, thyme and mint plants, peonies, violets, etc. Nell said she would make up the list, but since she no longer drove, she’d need someone to collect the materials. I had a little VW squareback, so I volunteered and spent the next few weeks organizing and turning our garage into a drying shed. One of our church members had a builders’ supply store, and donated several damaged sliding glass door window screens plus lots of cement blocks with broken corners. The hardware store owner donated two small fans and three nice plastic garbage cans with lids. I collected flower petals and herbs, dried them, and mixed them according to Nell’s instructions. Nell ordered the essential oils, spices and other botanicals we were missing.

It was one of the most interesting things I’ve done, and the members of the Quilters Group really came through with some lovely stitched items. Our booth had sachet bags, bowls and jars of pretty potpourri, filled linen drawer pillows, and potpourri bagged in cellophane tied with pretty ribbons. Customers were led to our booth by the wonderful scent, and since it was a unique item, we sold out quickly, making over $2,000 just for our booth alone! Of course, it wasn’t all profit because we had to deduct the initial costs of the essential oils and the orris root, which weren’t cheap. We immediately began to make plans for next year’s booth, and I began to wonder how we could cut costs.

The essential oils were beyond my abilities at that point, but as a farm girl I was determined to save some money by growing the orris root in my backyard. After all, it was an iris, and in Indiana they practically raised themselves so it couldn’t be that hard to grow them in Illinois. I was able to locate some plants of Iris germanica florentina from the famous Connecticut herb farm, Caprilands, and planted them in a sunny location as soon as the ground thawed. They grew quickly. When the buds appeared, I immediately clipped them off so the plant’s energy would go into producing larger roots. They expanded all summer into autumn. I dug them, divided and replanted the bed, harvesting as much as I could to be used as the “fixative” for our potpourri. After scrubbing the corms, I ground them in my meat grinder (no food processors then, you know!) and spread it out to dry. Nell had warned me that if I dried the corms first, they become hard as rocks and are almost impossible to grind. Once the small particles were dried, then I put them through my hand-cranked flour mill, twice! It was at this point that I decided it would probably be best to just purchase the ground orris root, because the amount I had produced was not even a tenth of what we’d need! Still, it was a great learning experience, and I had a greater appreciation of those medieval ladies and Elizabethan gentlewomen who developed the craft.

I still grow orris root, descendants of those first plants. They are a shorter iris, growing about 14″ tall, and are always the first of the regular (not dwarf) iris to bloom. The blossom is a full-sized bearded white with a slight tinge of blueness. They grow best in average but well-drained soil, in full sun. The corm has a light violet scent, and when dried and mixed with essential oils, flowers and spices it acts as a “fixative” for all those aromas, so the scents last much longer, often decades if properly stored in a cool, dry place out of light.

I love plants, like orris root, that have a history and a story. They will always be part of my garden. And maybe this year, with more time at home than usual, I’ll make a batch of Nell’s potpourri. I still have a tin from 1971, and it smells delicious! Now, where is that meat grinder…..

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Postcard from abroad

An apt postcard from my grandson!

When my grandson was a toddler, I was often his babysitter so his mother could have a day out. Those were the good old days, before the entire family moved to Germany when he was 4. We often had tea parties, and since he had trouble saying my “real” name, I became Grandma Tea! Now he’s 16!!! We are both still tea lovers, so when he saw this card, he knew it was meant for me. Seeing his handwritten message meant so very much. An occasional text is nice, but a handwritten note is exponentially better!

Balm “Mandarin Orange”

I’m always on the lookout for new tea plants, so last fall (long before any thoughts that a pandemic might influence tea supplies or trips to tea shops) while perusing one of my favorite seed catalogs I found “Mandarin Orange” balm. It’s related to Lemon Balm, which is a favorite tea herb and easily grown. Of course I had to order the seeds. I only planted a tiny pinch of seed, and seemingly each one grew. That warns me that it could be a bold self-seeder like its lemon cousin, so I will have to remember to harvest stems while still in flower, before seeds set and drop. When the seedlings got a bit larger, each baby was transplanted into an individual compartment. Even at that small stage, their scent was delicious! Later they were been moved to harden off on the benches outside the greenhouse. In comparison to lemon balm, they seem to be a bit darker and more gray-green in color, and the leaves are a little “hairier.” Recently, they were planted in the potager’s interior border near the south gate, where it is often a bit moist after a rain. They easily survived our 24 degree night last Friday, so I’m assuming they will also be a hardy perennial (Zone 4, maybe even 3) and will prefer a sunny or very lightly shaded (in Deep South) location as lemon balm does. In any case, I’m eager for the day there are enough leaves to harvest to brew a cup of tea. In the meantime, I rub the leaves each time I pass or water, and enjoy that “Earl Grey” aroma.

Since I grew several plants in anticipation of our little garden club plant sale and the herb symposium sale, which of course were cancelled, there are more plants than I need. I’ll be happy to ship a plant to the first 4 people who respond, limited to the continental U.S. since I no longer have a license to ship abroad.

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Six on Saturday: May 9th

The tulips are nodding, but maybe they will perk up.

Last night’s 24 degrees F broke the record (28 degrees) for May 9 that was recorded in 1947, the year I was born. That really puts the night’s freeze in perspective. My dad always said “A thunderstorm in January means a hard frost in May” and also that “the coldest nights usually come during a full moon,” so I checked the almanac for the date and waited. I’m glad I followed his wisdom and delayed planting any tender crops, even though some warmer days earlier on made it very tempting. I covered the blooming strawberries, and thought about picking all the tulips, but then decided to risk it. The tulips are nodding a bit in some areas, but overall they look okay at this point. We’ll see later in the day if I made the wrong decision if all the petals drop.

Even after these many decades of gardening through various experiences, I’m still surprised (or maybe I just forgot!) by what might be damaged by a freeze. For instance, lemon balm is a hardy perennial herb. I thought it wouldn’t be phased but this morning most of it’s leaves are entirely black.

It looks worse in person, but I’m confident it will recover fine.

And I’d always thought peas were indestructible in cold weather, but this morning I have peas with mushy stems and floppy leaves. (Even all those still lingering volunteer dill seedlings that were supposed to be gone didn’t help protect the peas!)

These “Sprite” peas are flat! Will they rebound? Interestingly, the “Green Arrow” peas nearby climbing their fence seem fine!
Maybe I should have covered these young nasturtiums? Fortunately there’s another flat in the greenhouse. Not the same color, but they will do.
There was still some space on the floor. Maybe I should have carried more flats inside…..

It’s times like these when I’m glad to have even a small greenhouse. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to have to carry all these flats (and the ones on the shelves you can’t see) back to the basement.

No, I didn’t plant these! What were they thinking? (And note the lack of social distancing…)

As I was leaving the potager after covering the strawberries and turning on the greenhouse heater, I spied this little clump of “Indigo Cherry” tomatoes volunteers. I didn’t grow any of that variety this year so I probably should have grabbed a trowel, stuck them in a pot and tucked them into the greenhouse as well. But it was still early, and thinking there would be enough heat in the ground, I put a heavy terracotta pot upside down over them and plugged the drainage hole and left. They look pretty skwishy and browned now, but some of them might make it. Only time will tell.

So, that’s my six for this chilly, breezy, but sunny Saturday in May. It looks like I can finally plant on Wednesday, if the soil temperatures rise enough. If you’d like to see more SOS offerings, click on The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

Stay home, stay safe and keep gardening! Warmer weather will come soon!

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When it rains and one can’t garden…

More challenging than I expected!

Last October, I met my two daughters for a lovely vacation in the London area. One day we were ambling through the pretty village of Woodstock, on a longer walk to Blenheim Palace. AK spotted a charity store across the street, so we quickly went inside to browse. I came away with this charming “Thatched Cottages” puzzle for a euro, certainly a bargain. Doing jigsaw puzzles is normally a family affair, not something I do on my own, but when the pandemic began and the weather prohibited gardening I was restless. So, the puzzle became a fixture on the small table in the living room.

I suspected there was a problem when the outside “frame” seemed complete, but there were 3 “edging” pieces left! So, a measuring tape was consulted and the 14″ x 16″ puzzle was only 12″ x 16″. That wasn’t right! I decided to count the pieces. The box stated “500.” I had 494. It was a slow process, and since I couldn’t trust the “frame” I built from the bottom up. At times it nearly went back into the box, but eventually it was finished. A lesson in patience! Very satisfying in the end, but doubtful I’ll do it again.

Can you spot the missing pieces?

I’m still not entirely sure it’s correct, since there is a piece of sky with a noticeable gap just above the right-hand chimney, but I’m calling it “done!” The lesson learned, “Beware of used puzzles?”

Oh, Happy Day!

On a happier note, on this gloomy, rainy day with 28 degrees F in tonight’s forecast, the box from Fieldstone Perennials arrived! You may recall my brief, overly optimistic dream of adding another island bed to the front lawn that went so far as ordering a few new perennials especially for that shady area under the black walnut trees. Although the plan has been abandoned, the plants are still welcome additions for the existing Front Island. Donning gloves, I carefully unpacked the plants. They are all large and healthy, bare-root packed in moss. I’ve folded the plastic back so the leaves are exposed and placed each bundle upright. Now, as suggested by the informative instructions included, the box is sitting in a bright light, but NOT sunny, cool location in the basement. They should be fine until they can go in the ground on Tuesday, since that’s when our forecast improves to a point that will allow planting. Now I can work on a new puzzle: the best location in the existing bed for each specimen.

Here’s what came for the sunnier areas: Daylily “Elfin Knight,” “Sombrero Way,” “Lime Frost,” “Lavender Deal” and short Phlox “Minnie Pearl. For the shadier side: Helleborus “Sandy Shores” and “First Dance” plus Tradescantia “Little White Doll.” I’m not sure all the daylilies will end up there, but if not they will find a good home somewhere on the property. There’s also a tall white phlox “Danielle” intended all along for the Deck Garden (to replace that hideous pink one!) This sounds like lots more fun, with no missing pieces!

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